Party of the (Would-Be) Working American?

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on November 5, 2014

The 2014 election season has shown that a stance of putting our fellow countrymen first by reducing legal immigration toward traditional levels is a welcome breath of fresh air to the voters. But the future is wide open for either party to take the high moral ground and win the allegiance of hurting Americans who would love to have full-time work.

Several politicians have expressed this winsome position, showing the potential to really, truly express empathy for the 20 million Americans who can't find a full-time job, are underemployed, have given up on looking for work, have had to make ends meet by getting disability or other government help, or otherwise have borne the brunt of their own government advantaging new immigrants over them.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama has emerged as the thought leader on the lower immigration-job opportunity connection. He has urged "a humble and honest populism" that fights for middle class and working class Americans through common-sense immigration reduction. Sen. Sessions is obviously in, but not of, Washington.

Sen. Sessions explains:

In changing the terms of the immigration debate we will not only prevent the implementation of a disastrous policy [the Senate amnesty bill], but begin a larger effort to broaden our appeal to working Americans of all backgrounds. Now is the time to speak directly to the real and legitimate concerns of millions of hurting Americans whose wages have declined and whose job prospects have grown only bleaker.

Perhaps the clearest explanation of the idea and most empathetic expression of why we must cut legal immigration and thereby empower our fellow Americans belongs to former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Here's how he put it in a speech in Iowa:

We don't have to abandon the rule of law, we have to communicate with where people are in America, and that's what we'll do. But we also have to face the reality that what's hurting American workers — maybe more than anything else if you're an unskilled worker in America — is a huge amount of immigration that's going on in this country. And I'm not just talking about illegal immigration. Yes, we've seen 12, 15 million illegal immigrants here who are competing in primarily unskilled jobs. But in the last 14 years since 2000, there've been more people who have come to this country legally than any 14-year period in American history, and that includes the Great Wave. And you know historically in America what we've done every time we've had huge waves of immigration, they've been waves, and what happens to waves? They come in, and then they go out; they provide a respite, they provide a respite for a lot of reasons, for labor markets to adjust. One of the reasons we see labor markets in such distress and wages not going anywhere is because there's a flood of labor coming in.

And we have the Democratic Party that doesn't care. They say they care about the workers, but they don't. You know what they care about? They care about bringing as many people in to get as many of their votes as possible. That's what they care about. They care about power and this is a way to power and unfortunately on our side, the Republican side, we have the business community who sees labor as a commodity. Ladies and gentleman, I don't see people as a commodity. I see people as individuals and valuable people whose wages should not be depressed to keep profits high by having people come into this country to keep wages down.

So we need a policy that puts Americans first, an American immigration policy that says no to amnesty, that says yes to securing the border, and that says that we need to dial back on chain immigration to this country that has resulted in over a million people a year coming here to suppress our labor markets. It's a very simple formula, and it's not against anything. I'm the son of an immigrant and I'll give you the experience of my father. He was one of the guys caught in the wave. My grandfather came at the end of the Great Wave in 1923. In 1921 and 1924 they passed two immigration laws that shut down immigration. After 1924, immigration was about a 100,000 a year, it's now over a million a year in America today. It was 100,000 and so my father was in Italy and my grandfather was in America for seven years it took for him to wait so he could see his dad. You can say, "we shouldn't do that to people." Well, my dad would always say, "America was worth the wait." It's worth doing it the right way because it was right for America to take a pause and to make sure that Americans were looked after first so that when he came he had the opportunities that the American Dream will give to all of your children.

Sen. Santorum's explication respects the integrity of our nation, honors the dignity of human beings, and sets priorities in a prudent, reasonable manner. He has continued to flesh out this position, which is taking root in Middle America. According to a Quad City Times article on his speech:

He said Democrats hurt middle-class Americans with more regulations and taxes, but some in the GOP are too focused on keeping labor prices down for corporations by encouraging immigration.

"The object of America is not corporate profits, the object of America is individual Americans, and that's who we should be for."

Santorum explained that reducing legal immigration would "allow the American workforce to begin to profit more from the profits that are being made." He also told Iowans that campaigning on tax cuts, deregulation, and balancing the budget "isn't a political winner."

David Brat, who slew Goliath (Rep. Eric Cantor, then the sitting House Majority Whip) in a Republican congressional primary in a solid Republican Virginia district, did the unexpected in significant part due to his consistently connecting mass immigration to the stubbornly tough job market. A Brat campaign mailer pointed out, "There are 20 million Americans who can't find a full-time job. But Eric Cantor wants to give corporations another 20 million foreign workers to hire instead." And with that conviction, an unknown college economics professor with $231,000 in his campaign coffers overcame the incumbent who had a nearly $6 million war chest. David trounced Goliath with 56 percent of the vote.

Brat has given voice to the voiceless middle-class family. Brat commented after his win, "The issue is the Republican Party has been paying way too much attention to Wall Street and not enough attention to Main Street," a dynamic that Cantor had come to epitomize in many ways. On immigration, where Cantor had strayed well into the pro-amnesty camp, Brat said "It's the most symbolic issue that captures the difference between myself and Eric Cantor in this race, but it also captures the fissures between Main Street and Wall Street."

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire this election, picked up on the compelling immigration-in-American-interest perspective. He forced incumbant Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to dissemble and avoid giving a straight answer on the harm the Senate amnesty bill she voted for would cause working and would-be working Americans. Brown said: "When you're looking at that bill, what it also does is it immediately gives an opportunity for the president to authorize upwards of 11 million people to get jobs. I want to fight for jobs for New Hampshire." Even though he ultimately lost the election, this line of argument caused the race to tighten in a way that had not been expected.

Notably, the Republicans articulating a new, pro-American immigration position haven't demonized immigrants. They voice no animosity toward people in other countries who would like to live in America or better their lives. Their message simply says that we need a change in immigration policy so our fellow Americans can land employment, the immigrants here already can also move up the economic ladder into the middle class, and the "virtuous circle" can be restored so our national economy can once again deliver a win-win for both workers and employers. This is a matter of choosing a new, better direction for our country.

Some political leaders will say, okay, this may work during a midterm election, but will it be effective during a presidential election? The candidates must tack to their base voters (conservatives for the GOP, liberals for Democrats) in the primary, then tack to the middle in the general election. I have great news. Making lower immigration a plank in a political campaign platform happens to garner overwhelming support from voters in all the most desired categories outside of the party's base: women, independent voters, blue-collar workers, blacks, Latinos, political moderates, the unemployed, and those earning less than $40,000 a year. This strong, broad public support is substantiated in a landmark survey by the Polling Company. Pollster Kellyanne Conway cites "JOBS" as "the primary motivator for an awakening ... on immigration." She finds "broad agreement that the government should enforce [immigration] policies that protect unemployed or low-wage American workers and legal immigrants already here."

For Democrats, who used to consider theirs the party of the working stiff, this aligns perfectly with the position of a civil rights icon, the late Rep. Barbara Jordan, who led a bipartisan national commission in the 1990s that recommended essentially this policy direction.

At present, many Americans view the Republican party as the tool of Big Business and the Democrats as the tool of Big Labor and a mish-mash of ethnic and extremist grievance groups. Which will become the party of the working American? It's still up for grabs, but immigration reduction must be central and connected to greater job opportunities for our fellow Americans in a job-scarce economy.

Topics: Politics